Winnipeg - Flood Of 97
© unknownNear Winnepeg during the Red River flood of 1997.
Provincial officials issue standby orders in Manitoba

The latest weather reports have officials in Fargo, N.D., ramping up emergency flooding efforts, as Manitoba communities await a provincial flood forecast on Friday.

Volunteers in North Dakota have begun packing 1.5 million sandbags after forecasters said an approaching weather system may deliver 20 to 60 millimetres of rain across the state and into Manitoba.

The ground in the region is already saturated with three times the normal amount of moisture.

Manitoba latest is awaiting the flood forecast, but provincial officials have already issued standby orders to mayors and reeves in communities along the Red River.

The weather system bearing down on Fargo is not expected to drop as much rain in Manitoba.

The Red River is expected to crest around the end of March, about two weeks earlier than initially anticipated.

"They [U.S. National Weather Service] moved the date. We were talking about the middle of April or at least the end of the first week in April, as far as a crest date," Fargo Mayor Dennis Walacher said. "They moved that back to March 28 and [predict] a crest similar to 1997. That has created a lot of concern here in the city of Fargo."

The flood of 1997 devastated communities along the Red River valley, especially in the area between Winnipeg and Grand Forks, N.D.

The Red River covered some 2,000 square kilometres - an area equivalent to the size of Prince Edward Island - causing more than $4.4 billion in damage and prompting 80,000 people to leave their homes.

Forecasters predict this year the Red will crest in Fargo at more than 10.5 metres, with the flood stage pegged at 5.4 metres. The crest in 1997 was 12 metres.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on scene

Preparations in Fargo, 350 kilometres south of Winnipeg, are already well underway.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has arrived and started building a dike around city hall.

Streets are being closed, garbage pickup has been cancelled for at least the next week, and the city is planning to hold a public meeting about the situation on Monday.

In Grand Forks, the weather service projects a crest of around 15 metres, with a 10 per cent chance it will top the 16.2-metre level reached in 1997. Flood stage in Grand Forks is 8.4 metres.